BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando County Animal Services officer has been disciplined for leaving a 2-month-old kitten locked in his truck for more than 40 hours over a weekend earlier this month.
Officer Michael Steele received a one-day suspension without pay and a warning for the error.
Steele brought the tabby to the shelter in the trap in which it was captured on June 1. He got distracted and forgot that the animal was still in the truck when he left that evening for the weekend, according to the disciplinary form.
The kitten was discovered a day and a half later when another officer, Linda Christian, stopped by the shelter on Sunday morning. She had come to Animal Services to pick up her personal vehicle and "heard the noise of a cat screaming like it was in pain,'' according to her statement. It took her a few minutes to figure out where the cries were coming from.
"As I walked past the animal control truck #70, I heard the screams of a cat coming from the center boxes,'' she wrote. "When I opened the box I found a tabby/white kitten approximately 8-9 weeks old, severely dehydrated and wet from sweating and panting in a transfer trap with feces.''
She took photos, called a kennel worker as a witness and brought the kitten into the shelter, securing it in a cage and providing it with moist food and water. She returned a couple of hours later and added some Pedialite to the water.
"The kitten appeared to be recovering,'' she wrote.
Christian said the truck was in the direct sun.
"I am just relieved I chanced to be at Animal Services today,'' she wrote. "Otherwise, the outcome may have turned out differently.''
"The kitten has since responded well to re-hydration and being provided food,'' Mike Nickerson, the county's public safety director, wrote on the discipline form. "However, the fact that the kitten survived does not undo the fact that the action of accidentally leaving a cat inside a hot truck, without food or water, is a form of animal abuse.''
Steele was put on notice that any additional suffering of animals because of his negligence would be grounds for additional disciplinary action and possible termination.
In his written response to Nickerson, Steele expressed "extreme regret and remorse'' over forgetting the kitten in his truck. He described a hectic afternoon during which he needed a second opinion on whether the kitten was feral but was unable to get one immediately. He was also taking calls on an animal bite case.
"I am a devoted employee to these animals, the public and this organization as well. I would never do anything to hurt an animal intentionally or embarrass myself or Hernando County,'' Steele wrote.
Steele, a longtime county employee, started work at Animal Services in November 2006 as a kennel worker.
Nickerson said the kitten was kept for a week and monitored. It was determined to be feral and was euthanized last week in keeping with Animal Services rules regarding feral cats.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.